I made a new infographic today on the abbreviations of chemical elements, and there's one origin everybody is surely scratching their heads about. I'd love to go more in depth, anyway. The symbol for Tungsten is W. That stands for Wolfram, which is really unsurprising, considering that wolfram was the archaic term for "tungsten" before that fancy new Swedish word came along (this is. Here, however, it gets interesting. The prevailing theory is that this comes from a German portmanteau combining the words wolf, meaning "wolf", and rahm, meaning "cream". This is (a calque) modeled on the Latin phrase lupi spuma, which meant "wolf foam" and also described that metal for some reason. However, wolf is what we're looking at. Obviously from the same source as English wolf, it, through Middle and High German, comes from Proto-Germanic wulfaz, from Proto-Indo-European wlkwos, meaning "dangerous". At the same time as this was developing, rahm was also coming through Middle and High German from Proto-Germanic, in this case from raumaz (still meaning "cream") and ultimately deriving from Proto-Indo-European ru, meaning "skim". Though it is debated that rahm might have actually come from a word for "soot" or just a surname, if true, this would make the Wolfram|Alpha computational search engine have a name meaning "alpha dangerous skim".
Adam Aleksic is a 220-month-old, 2800-ounce high school senior with disturbing interests in etymology, vexillology, geography, board games, limericks, and law. Adam will be studying linguistics at Harvard University in the fall.
The Etymology Nerd